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Raptors blow great chance to win championship

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TORONTO – Kawhi Leonard drilled what Fred VanVleet would call an f-you 3-pointer, giving the Raptors their first lead since the first quarter. Toronto fans burst into a frenzy. Leonard drove for a basket. The arena erupted. Leonard pulled up for another 3-pointer. The crowd somehow got even louder. Leonard turned a drive into a short pull-up jumper. It was pandemonium.

Raptors 101, Warriors 97

Already up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, Toronto appeared to seize control of Game 5 with three minutes left. Leonard scored on four straight possessions to cap a 12-2 run. Kevin Durant had already exited with an injury. The Warriors looked like they were running out of gas.

The Raptors’ first championship appeared imminent.

But Golden State closed the game on a 9-2 run to steal a 106-105 victory. The reversal was quick and jarring. A stunned fan base fell quiet. Just like that, the celebration was dashed.

Toronto had a 94% chance of winning Game 5 when up six with 2:59 left, per inpredictable.

Teams have lost 13 potential championship-clinching games since 1997, as far back as the NBA has play-by-play data. Only the Spurs’ Game 6 loss to the Heat in 2013 had a more devastating blown lead. Up 3-2 in the series, San Antonio had a 99% chance of winning the title when leading by five with 23 seconds left, per inpredictable. But Ray Allen hit a huge 3-pointer, and Miami won in overtime then took the series in Game 7.

Here’s every lost potential championship-clinching game since 1997, sorted by inpredictable’s peak odds for the losing team:

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Situation Odds Final Series
2013 G6: SAS 94, MIA 89 (Q4: 0:23) 99% MIA 103, SAS 100 MIA 4, SAS 3
2019 G5: TOR 103, GSW 97 (Q4: 2:59) 94% GSW 106, TOR 105 TBD
2010 G7: BOS 49, LAL 36 (Q3: 8:24) 85% LAL 83, BOS 79 LAL 4, BOS 3
2005 G7: DET 48, SAS 39 (Q3: 7:44) 76% SAS 81, DET 74 SAS 4, DET 3
2016 G7: GSW 87, CLE 83 (Q4: 5:37) 72% CLE 93, GSW 89 CLE 4, GSW 3
1998 G5: CHI 36, UTA 28 (Q2: 0:04) 71% UTA 83, CHI 81 CHI 4, UTA 2
2013 G7: SAS 11, MIA 4 (Q1: 6:46) 63% MIA 95, SAS 88 MIA 4, SAS 3
2016 G5: GSW 18, CLE 13 (Q1: 5:33) 63% CLE 112, GSW 97 CLE 4, GSW 3
2005 G6: SAS 51, DET 48 (Q3: 9:38) 61% DET 95, SAS 86 SAS 4, DET 3
2008 G5: BOS 62, LAL 60 (Q3: 8:26) 55% LAL 103, BOS 98 BOS 4, LAL 2
2010 G6: BOS 6, LAL 4 (Q1: 9:55) 54% LAL 89, BOS 67 LAL 4, BOS 3
2000 G5: LAL 1, IND 0 (Q1: 11:42) 52% IND 120, LAL 87 LAL 4, IND 2
2016 G6: GSW 0, CLE 0 (Q1: 11:37) 51% CLE 115, GSW 101 CLE 4, GSW 3

The Raptors still have two chances to eliminate the Warriors – Game 6 Thursday in Oakland and, if necessary, Game 7 Sunday in Toronto. Most teams in the Raptors’ position have won the series. Golden State losing Durant tilts the odds even further in Toronto’s direction.

But if the Raptors don’t win one more, the end of Game 5 could haunt them for a long time.

Report: There is mutual interest between the Knicks, Julius Randle

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The Knicks priority this summer is big game hunting: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kyrie Irving (if one of those first two come). They have the cap space (or can get to it easily) and the lures of New York and Madison Square Garden. They want to be players.

Whether they land a superstar or not — and right now “not” seems the more likely outcome, reading the tea leaves around the league — they will need to round out the roster with good players to fit next to rookie R.J. Barret and young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Enter Julius Randle.

From Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

Other free agents on the Knicks’ radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources.

“We are going to have the opportunity to meet with the guys we want to meet with,” [Knicks president Steve] Mills said without offering details or confirming names.

Randle, just 24, has seen his stock go up in recent years and averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season. His game is a throwback, he uses his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. He also shot 34.4 percent from three, forcing teams to respect him from the arc.

Randle could fit well with the Knicks. The question, as always, is at what price.

As for the others mentioned in the report, DeAndre Jordan may well land wherever Kevin Durant signs (they are good friends). Cousins and the Morris twins are second-tier players, meaning once the stars make their picks teams will be looking to round out rosters and those guys will start getting more and more calls. (The Warriors can only offer Cousins a little more than $6 million to return, another team will likely come in higher, but what worries teams more is the years, he very well may not get more than two.)

Drew Brees sent Zion Williamson a signed jersey that said “Passing the torch to you”

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New Orleans is a football town.

The Pelicans are trying to carve out their space in that market — and landing Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick in the draft has helped generate the kind of excitement they need — but the Big Easy is all about the Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees is treated like a deity in that town.

Brees welcomed Williamson to town Tuesday by giving him an autographed jersey, one that read, “Passing the torch to you.” It also came with a card that said, “Zion, welcome to the family. Let’s dance.”

The best part of this is Williamson’s reaction — he is genuinely in awe. Much like when he teared up on the night of the draft (when we all knew he was going to be taken No. 1 for months), Williamson just seems humble and taken aback by everything through this process.

Masai Ujiri ‘confident’ Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto Raptors

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TORONTO (AP) Still absorbing the magnitude of his team’s accomplishment, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is confident Kawhi Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s core will reunite next season in a bid for another title.

“We’re on to the next issue, which for us is coming back and being champions again,” Ujiri said Tuesday in his first news conference since Toronto won its first title nearly two weeks ago. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again.”

Retaining Leonard is the most pressing issue. The two-time finals MVP is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

“I know what we’ve built here,” Ujiri said. “I’m confident, and you see how these things go.”

Ujiri stressed the main selling points of his pitch to Leonard: health, trust, success.

“I said we have to be ourselves, and we were ourselves for the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.

“I believe winning a championship, him seeing who we are, working with his medical staff combined with our medical staff and getting him to where he wanted to be,” Ujiri added.

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.

Ujiri says he and Leonard have had multiple talks the past several days, discussions he called “positive.”

The Raptors will stay in touch and meet formally once free agency begins Sunday. After that, Ujiri is not worried about how long Leonard takes to decide.

“I texted Kawhi last night, I talked to his uncle this morning,” Ujiri said. “For us, there’s that trust regardless of wherever it goes, and there’ll be constant communication.”

Center Marc Gasol also has a player option for next season, and guard Danny Green is a free agent.

“I think they know what the effect of Kawhi’s decision is, but we’re really approaching it like we want to bring everybody back on this team,” Ujiri said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Less urgent is a potential extension for forward Pascal Siakam, a runaway winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The parties plan to meet during the summer league.

“Pascal has gotten to a place where he’s definitely a priority for us and it’s definitely going to be a conversation that we’ll have,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri said little about his confrontation with a deputy following the Game 6 clincher. The deputy’s lawyer, David Mastagni, says his client is on medical leave with a concussion and jaw injury and is considering a lawsuit.

Ujiri says his lawyers are updating him about the investigation.

“I am confident about who I am as a person, my character and as a human being,” Ujiri said. “For now, I’ll just respect their process there and wait for the next steps.”

Asked to address reports linking him to NBA job offers, Ujiri stresses that his family loves Toronto.

“My kids are Canadians,” he said. “For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person.”

As for celebrating the NBA title with political leaders, Ujiri says the team has yet to decide on a White House visit if invited. He adds that seeing Canada’s prime minister would be a “priority.”

Ujiri did have one regret Tuesday – not bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him. But minutes before the news conference ended, the golden trophy arrived and was placed on the table next to him. Ujiri carried it out as he left.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

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There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.